4 Jan 2012

Egypt - A People's Assembly With Hardly Any women !

Meet Margaret Azar. Egyptian. Christian. Politician. She is one of five women now elected to Egypt's new parliament (lower chamber). She is the only Christian woman among the 5 and the only one without a veil (hijab). She belongs to Al Wafd liberal party who has now won 3 female seats in total.

I had a chance to chat with Margaret for a while as she struggled to drive through Cairo's hellish traffic to reach her party's headquarters. She expressed to me real fears of what she called Islamic religious currents. She blamed "women's exclusion" from parliament on two things equally : the new electoral system which makes it very difficult for women to make it on their own in the directly elected seats, and the political parties which placed very few women on their lists and did not place them high up enough for them to get real chances of being elected.

To the right of Margaret Azar is Sana Said, another elected member of parliament, from the Egypt's Social Democratic Party. To Margaret's left is yet another member of parliament: Azza Al Jafr from Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. Azza's views were very different to Margaret. She thought that fears of so-called "islamism" are unjustified. Azza kept saying she was in parliament to represent "real Egyptian women, not the "women on satellite TV's"

As elections reach their third and final stage, a sixth woman, from MB's Freedom and Justice Party, is expected to win a seat in the parliament. Another woman or may be 2 women might win too, but their total number in parliament is not likely to be more than seven - although some have been saying they might reach 10 but I really don't see how.

Seven women out of 498 members means less than 2% of the parliament, against 23% of women in Tunisia's Constituent Assembly where parties' lists had have 50% of women by law, unlike Egypt.

Truly shocking ! But it reflects a situation that needs to be addressed in a very conservative society where women took part in the revolution, side by side with men proving to be just as capable in political struggle - sometimes even more capable than men. But when it came to political participation it was back to square one in a male-dominated society where women were very enthusiastic voters but their votes went mostly to male candidates.

More writings on Egypt

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